Working from home enables maximum flexibility. You can work where you’re most comfortable, spend less time commuting, and waltz to the kitchen to make your favorite sandwich whenever the mood strikes. But is setting up shop in a home office actually an effective way to increase working from home productivity?
We’ll look at the facts about how working from home impacts productivity and share data-backed tips for making sure you get your work done (and then some), even if it’s from your living room.
Does working from home improve productivity?
The short answer is yes: working from home can positively impact productivity. But for a more nuanced explanation, let’s take a look at what the research says.
Even before the global pandemic made working from home the norm, studies recognized the benefits of remote work. In 2015, a large-scale study of call center employees found that working from home led to a 13% performance increase. The success was attributed to remote employees working more minutes per shift and handling more calls per minute.
Fast forward to 2020, and researchers had their pick of companies to study concerning productivity and working from home.
In mid-2020 when remote work was gaining traction, workers based at home some or all of the time reported being about 4% more productive than their counterparts who worked fully in-office. By the spring of 2022, that number had increased to 9%, which researchers say is because employees have adapted well to working outside the traditional office.
Another study found even more rosy results. In a survey of close to 11,000 workers around the globe, respondents who had full schedule flexibility reported 29% higher productivity levels than workers with no control over their schedule. That same group of workers said their ability to focus was a whopping 53% greater.
The findings make it clear that working from home can lead to a noticeable bump in productivity, but they don’t come without a caveat: employees must have the right work-from-home setup and proper support from their employer.
Next, let’s talk about some of the most important factors for a productive work-from-home environment.
Factors that affect work-from-home productivity
To be able to work from home effectively, you need technology that lets you perform two basic functions: communicating with your colleagues and sharing information. Unfortunately, much of this aspect of productivity is out of your control and rests on your employer to provide.
If your company is on board with remote work, they should arm you with the tools (like Slack or Teams) and systems (via a project management platform like Asana) you need to do your job properly regardless of location. If you’re a remote employee without access to the right technology, it’s definitely an issue worth raising with your boss.
However, you’re not totally at the mercy of your employer regarding technology, either. You can set yourself up for success by eliminating technology that hinders your productivity, like using an app like Freedom that limits the amount of time you spend on distracting websites like Facebook.
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We typically think of productivity as a mental concept, but our physical space has a huge impact on the volume and quality of work we do. While you might have the comfiest couch in the world, you need a space that’s conducive to work and not lounging.
To maximize your work-from-home productivity, set up a space that’s dedicated solely to your job. It should be well lit and have plenty of surface area for you to spread out your work materials comfortably. Choose an ergonomic seat that’s the proper height for the work you’ll be doing–FYI, a typical dining room table and chairs are not positioned at the ideal height for working at a computer.
Finally, choose a workspace where you can close yourself off from the rest of your home with an actual door if your space allows. Not only does this cement it as a space just for work, but it’ll also help with the next item on our list…
Limit distractions as much as possible. Though working from home might mean you’re able to play the background music you couldn’t get away with in a shared office; it’s not a good idea to have TV shows streaming in the background or any other media that would be inappropriate in a professional setting.
Set boundaries if you’re sharing the space with someone else, like a spouse or roommate. Make it clear that your work time is specifically for working and not for hanging out, catching up on household to-dos, or any other tasks.
Amazon work-from-home must-haves
Tips for being productive while working from home
1. Set a schedule (and stay on It!)
The flexibility of working from home is a great perk–to an extent. But there’s a definitive tipping point where too much flexibility is detrimental, especially when it comes to your daily work schedule.
Humans thrive on routine, and your brain performs its best when it can anticipate and prepare for work mode. So, get up and start your day at the same time, the same way each day. You can still take advantage of the flexibility and the time you save by not commuting by incorporating it into your morning routine, like making a healthy breakfast or working out. Whatever you choose to do to start your day, try to keep it consistent.
The same goes for during your workday. Take a lunch break at the same general hour each day. Stick to a rough framework for scheduling different activities, i.e., meetings in the morning and creative work in the afternoon. You can still structure your day in the way that works best for you, make it a routine instead of changing your schedule willy-nilly from one day to the next.
2. Set daily priorities
Perhaps the biggest struggle of being productive when you’re based at home is getting your work done when there’s no one physically present to keep you on task. Stay focused by setting a list of goals you need to accomplish. You can do this by the day, by the week, or both. Rank the items on the list in order of importance and tackle them one by one to ensure the highest priority tasks are completed first.
3. Take dedicated breaks
One of the downsides of working from home is that it can lead to an unintentional increase in overtime. When there’s no physical separation between home and office, it’s easy for your work to creep into hours where you’d normally be disconnected. Plus, you might have no reason to leave your house for an entire day or more without a commute. It’s important to counteract this if you want to perform your best.
To mitigate overwork, block off dedicated time in your schedule to take breaks. Get a bite to eat, go outside for some fresh air, or phone a friend to give your mind a momentary break from work. You’ll return to your desk with fresh eyes and more energy and be less likely to experience burnout over the long term.
4. Don’t try to multitask
Trying to kill two birds with one stone can be tempting by crossing items off your to-do list (meeting a repairman, attending a telehealth appointment, etc.) while you’re on the clock. But this will ultimately sabotage your productivity and, in the worst-case scenario, could get you in trouble with your boss.
When it’s your dedicated time to work, work. Take PTO if you need to be off the clock. This will cut down on stress and ensure you’re not misleading your boss about how you’re spending your time.
Whatever you do, don’t try to hold down a remote job while also watching your kids. As millions of parents learned firsthand during the pandemic, this is an untenable situation where neither work nor childcare receives proper attention. It’s even a fireable offense at some companies.
5. Be intentional with social interactions
Another downside of working from home is the lack of peer interaction. These interactions are not only important for sharing information and building valuable professional relationships, but they also have a positive impact on your mental health, too.
To stay engaged with your job and get beneficial face-time with colleagues, make it a point to set aside time to connect with your peers. This might be for work-related purposes, but it can also be informal time to catch up the way you would in passing in a physical office. Believe it or not, sometimes it’s a good thing to have a Zoom meeting when an email would have sufficed.
6. Get face time with your boss
Your peers aren’t the only ones you want to make a point to connect with. It’s also a good idea to get time on the calendar with your boss regularly, whether that’s through a weekly check-in or a monthly review. Keep them in the loop about what you’re working on, go over priorities, and ask for feedback.
This is especially important if your boss is a reluctant participant in remote work; they’ll feel more confident in your productivity if they feel like they know how you’re spending your work day.
The fact that you’re reading this article proves you’re a conscientious employee who wants to do a good job even when working remotely. By taking intentional steps to stay focused on your job and connected to your colleagues, you’ll perform your best while avoiding the pitfalls of working from home.